This past summer I noticed a noticeable change in my kids. I began to notice my kids’ interest in doing things for themselves. Up until now, I have been standing next to them to help with lunches, tying shoes, scaring away monsters from their rooms, and whatever else it is they needed. I was hoping it might have been a passing whim (like when they ‘had’ to have Silly Bandz) but it hasn’t been. While I have have tried to stay in the present, all around me time continued on at breakneck speed with my daughters riding shotgun toward the future.
Throughout their lives, I have stayed close enough to my kids without hovering over them. I was content to let them fall so they could learn how to get back up again. I didn’t use the kid collars to keep them close to me in the mall (make them as colorful as you want, they’re still leashes). I have been a dad who encouraged them playing something that did not include me. Yet, with all the distance I allowed between us, when my girls turned around they knew I would be close by. When they called my name I came running. I have contorted myself into positions that should have put me in a walker just so we could play Hide and Go Seek together. When they had a question, they asked and I answered. On more than one occasion I have heard them playing in another room only to hear the oldest tell her younger sister, “Go ask Dad”.
But things have changed. My kids still have questions to be answered. They still expect me to cram myself into a closet to hide. They just turn their heads to look for me with less frequency.
If I listened to my ego, I would have thought I had more time with them looking back for me. I would have thought the kids would always need their Dad standing there next to them. My ego would have liked to know if there is something wrong with me.
I could listen to the guilt and the fear this road to independence has brought to the forefront. It makes me think I should have played more with them often. We should have done more Father/Daughter things together. I stand here scrambling to try to find meaningful activities to pack a day with. For the past 10 years, my life has been entirely about my kids. I fear what my role will become now that they know I’m not as needed as I once was.
I kept these thoughts in my head until the other day when my 10 year old asked me if it would be ok if she could walk home from the bus by herself. The walk itself was of little concern to me. We live half a block away from where the bus lets the kids off. Half a block in my neighborhood means I could throw a paper airplane to the corner and hit the bus. What was more concerning was my daughter didn’t want me at the corner. It was a shot to my ego, it was a jolt to my pride, and it was a shock to my emotions. I agreed to let her go despite my feelings (my feelings which my wife referred to as, “ridiculous”).
I watched her walk home. She was engulfed with the moment, talking with her friend (who was walking home by herself too) and with a smile I know all too well. It is the smile I have seen on my little girl’s face a thousand times before. I have seen it playing ‘Peekaboo’ with her as a baby, when she learned to ride her bike without training wheels, when she first learned how to read, and when I would come home from work. It is a smile that can warm my heart, bring a tear to my eye, and now awaken me to what my role is becoming as ‘Dad’.
As much as I have to grow with my kids, I also have to take a step back from them and allow them to grow on their own. When they were younger and needed me to be standing next to them, I was there. I know my kids can’t have their dad literally standing next to them (although when they start dating, that might change) now. Its ok my girls don’t need me as much as they used to because part of my job is to be excited watching them as they grow up even if I dread watching today disappear.
Whether I am there figuratively or literally for my kids, the most important thing I can teach my kids is to know I will always be there for them. No matter if they need a ‘Hide and Go Seek’ partner, someone to make them lunch, approval to walk home by themselves, or to stand back and let them go, all they will have to do to find me is turn around.
I’ll be standing there.